As political and intellectual contests between Classical Liberals, Progressives, and a variety of conservatives continue to simmer (and occasionally boil), the subject of economic redistributionism is only more salient. To provide a variety of liberal interpretations, critiques, and endorsements of redistributionism, the IHS and Liberty Fund will be hosting an Advanced Topics discussion colloquium which should both challenge discussant’s presuppositions and better inform their research on this important topic moving forward. The primarily graduate student audience will discuss texts Hayek’s early interpretations of social justice and redistribution, modern philosophers—both Classical Liberal and otherwise—on different approaches to the topic, and debates over the Universal Basic Income from the likes of Peter Boettke and Matt Zwolinski. The conversation will be moderated by William & Mary’s Professor Chris Freiman and will be hosted in the DC area.
In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a now famous State of the Union address in which he called upon Congress to implement programs that would protect the welfare of all Americans by guaranteeing their material (or economic) security. The so-called “Second Bill of Rights,” Roosevelt said, was necessary to establish and maintain security, an essential requirement for freedom. Since then, numerous scholars and politicians have adopted the position that welfare rights are essential to freedom, and some have argued that such rights are implicit in the United States Constitution. Classical liberal theorists have argued, however, that the recognition of constitutional welfare rights clashes with other constitutional rights, and these same scholars have argued that redistribution should either be completely abolished or reduced
to a minimal safety net to assist the less fortunate members of society who cannot be assisted by private charitable efforts. Furthermore, classical liberals have rejected an understanding of equality that conceives it in material, rather than formal terms, on the grounds that such an understanding conflicts with fundamental notions of individual liberty and responsibility.
The controversy over equality and redistribution is one of the central debates of our time, and it is not possible to have an adequate understanding of it from the perspective of any single discipline. Among other central issues, the readings for this colloquium address the historical role that mutual aid societies played in allowing individuals to support each other before the welfare state, the philosophical debates regarding an alleged connection between freedom and welfare rights, and the social and political consequences of granting the state a power to redistribute wealth.
This conference has been held multiple times by this co-sponsor. There were no reading changes since the last time the conference was approved. The readings and sessions will be organized as follows:
Session I – Discussion: Poverty and Charity before the Welfare State. According to David Beito, there was a “great stigma” attached to accepting government aid or private charity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mutual aid, on the other hand, did not carry the same stigma. It was based on reciprocity: today’s mutual aid recipient could be tomorrow’s donor and vice versa. What explains the change in people’s attitudes regarding public welfare? What were the main services provided by mutual aid societies? Did the benevolent institutions designed by private charity and voluntary philanthropy show important shortcomings? To what extent does liberty influence altruistic human behavior if one compares private charity to public welfare?
Beito, David T. From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890–1967. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. “Introduction” (pages 1–4), Chapter 1, “This Enormous Army” (pages 5–16), Chapter 11, “The End of the Golden Age” (pages 204–221), and notes (pages 235–238 and 281–286).
Session II – Discussion: Equality, Justice, and Envy. The purpose of this session is to explore the role of envy in discussions of equality. Helmut Schoeck documents the charge that over the past 150 years, Western industrial society has institutionalized envy, and made the pathologically envious man the arbiter of “social justice.” What is the social function of envy, according to Schoeck? Why is it necessary to remove envy from political discussion in order to effect human flourishing? Why does Jouvenel claim that redistributionism reflects an excessively individualistic understanding of man and society? What two “absolute disapprovals” does he believe drive redistributionism?
Schoeck, Helmut. Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987. Chapter 1, “Man the Envier” (pages 3-15), Chapter 14, “The Sense of Justice and the Idea of Equality” (pages 277-307).
Jouvenel, Bertrand de. The Ethics of Redistribution. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1990. Selections from Lecture I, “The Socialist Ideal” (pages 3–32).
Session III – Discussion: Equal Shares or Equal Treatment? John Rawls says that the significance of liberty is the protection of aims and interests, and that equality of income and wealth is the “obvious starting point” for the expressions of equality. To what extent is this true? Why are interests in control of property and in making contract not similarly protected in Rawls’s scheme? David Schmidtz’s discussion of equality involves a distinction between equal shares and equal treatment. He argues that equal respect might require the latter, but not the former. What is the significance of the impact of redistribution in the creation of wealth in Schmidtz’s argument? Do Schmidtz’s arguments against equality also cut against those theories that demand that each person have sufficient material resources to meet some very basic needs?
Rawls, John. Collected Papers. Edited by Samuel Freeman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Chapter 13, “A Kantian Conception of Equality (1975)” (pages 254–266).
Schmidtz, David. Elements of Justice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Chapter 19, “Does Equal Treatment Imply Equal Shares?” (pages 109–113), Chapter 20, “What is Equality for?” (pages 114–119), Chapter 22, “Equality and Opportunity” (pages 126–139), and Chapter 24, “The Limits of Equality” (pages 150–157).
Session IV – Discussion: Freedom, Coercion, and the Market. Robert Nozick famously argued that liberty upsets patterns and that “patterned” principles of distributive justice necessitate redistributive activities. This is because the likelihood of any actual freely-arrived-at set of holdings fitting a given pattern in a stable manner is virtually zero. Does Nozick’s argument beg the question against partisans of redistribution, as egalitarian theorists have claimed? How important is the objection that egalitarians must preclude voluntary transactions among consenting adults? Is the notion of voluntariness used by Nozick plausible? What is the significance of the discussions of original distributions of property for this debate between Nozick and his critics? How do Zwolinski’s arguments for a Basic Income either act in concert with or contradict Nozick’s position?
Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1974. Selections from Chapter 7, “Distributive Justice” (pages 149–164).
Olsaretti, Serena. Liberty, Desert and the Market: A Philosophical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Chapter 6, “The Free Market, Force and Choice: Beyond Libertarians and Their Critics” (pages 137–161).
Zwolinski, Matt. “Classical Liberalism and the Basic Income,” Basic Income Studies 6, No. 2 (2011). (about 13 pages).
Session V – Discussion: Classical Liberalism, Social Justice, and the Concern for the Poor. Hayek offers one of the most sustained and prominent classical liberal arguments against social justice. Hayek’s critique rests on the claim that only products of deliberate human design can be just or unjust. What tension does Hayek see between the struggle for liberty and the demand for equality? Aside from equality before the law, does he recognize any other significant ways in which individuals are equal or should be treated as such?
Hayek, Friedrich A. Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 2: The Mirage of Social Justice [Phoenix Edition]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976, 1978. Chapter 9, “‘Social’ or Distributive Justice” (pages 62–100) and notes (pages 175–184).
Tullock, Gordon. The Selected Works of Gordon Tullock, Volume 1: Virginia Political Economy. Edited by Charles K. Rowley. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2004. Selection from Chapter 5, “The Charity of the Uncharitable” (pages 262–275).
Session VI – Discussion: The Logic of Redistribution. Governments do not merely give money and monopoly power to small groups in society. Instead, public choice scholars have noted that the modern state takes from everyone and then redistributes the money in different amounts across society. What are the consequences of this practice? What are the incentives that drive lawmakers and bureaucrats to enact and implement redistributive and welfare policies? What is the behavioral impact of these policies on those affected by them? What is the importance of government’s efforts to change the distribution of income given the individuals’ responses to them through various market processes? Are Boettke and Martin’s arguments about inefficiency and political corruption compare to Zwolinski’s arguments about the expansion of individual liberty in Session IV? How—if at all—has this debate expanded during the last decade?
Wagner, Richard E. To Promote the General Welfare –– Market Processes vs. Political Transfers. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1989. Chapter 8, “The Transfer Society and the Welfare State” (pages 155–178) and Chapter 9, “The Welfare State versus the General Welfare” (pages 179–198).
Boettke & Martin, “Taking the ‘G’ Out of BIG: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on Basic Income,” Basic Income Studies 6, No. 2 (2011): 1-18.